Conventional psychiatry isn’t working. That’s the conclusion of no less an eminent figure than Dr Anne Harrington in her book Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness.
Summarizing Harrington’s book, psychiatrist Daniel Morehead recounted her view that:
“Psychiatry as a medical discipline is a failure. Even worse, psychiatry constitutes a series of failures over its two-century history. The 19th-century asylums movement failed. Kraepelin’s descriptive psychiatry failed at the turn of the century. The pluralistic psychiatry of Adolf Meyer failed, leading an ‘anything-goes’ mentality up to and including lobotomies. The Freudian revolution ended in a ‘slow train wreck,’ leaving psychiatry in embarrassing disrepute. And last of all, psychiatry’s so-called biological revolution fizzled out in failure, as drug companies abandoned a profession ‘in crisis.’”
Writing in the April 2022 issue of Psychiatric Times, Morehead goes on to mount an ardent defense of his profession, but Harrington’s summation—particularly of modern drug-based psychiatry—stacks up when you view the evidence.
Antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, have proven an extraordinary and potentially life-threatening failure at curbing clinical depression. No drug yet created has been able to reverse the epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Drugs for Parkinson’s offer, at best, a managed and inevitable decline. And the usual pharmaceutical solutions for anxiety are highly addictive, as anyone taking Valium over the long haul can attest. Far from preventing suicide, they’ve led to an 11 percent increase in people killing themselves, and this while receiving psychiatric care.
That’s one reason the drug industry hasn’t produced a single new drug for mental illness in a decade—a tacit admission that the chemical solution to a range of mental illnesses isn’t making a dent in the suicides or the spiraling incidence of depression.
But there is hope for patients with a number of mental conditions from a most unlikely place: aromatherapy. Although aromatherapists have known the value of these oils to treat a host of conditions, new scientific studies confirm that inhaling the essential oils of a vast array of plants can also help to heal the brain.
A great deal of evidence has now shown that these essential oils, when inhaled, bypass the blood-brain barrier via olfactory nerves in the nasal cavity and pass through the nasal-brain pathway to directly target brain tissue, particularly the amygdala, the primitive emotional center of the brain.
These oils directly affect the thalamus, the cerebral cortex and the limbic system (involved in emotion), which in turn have a central role in depression and anxiety.
Aromatherapy oils contain hundreds of active compounds that have direct effects on both the immune system and the central nervous system, and therefore on the brain.
Although the oils affect the same pathways that are targeted by pharmaceutical drugs, they do not come with the same litany of side effects—or, indeed, increase the risk of suicide, as many antidepressants and antipsychotics do.
Once they are inhaled into the nose or mouth, just a few drops of oil, which contain quintillions of molecules, enter the bloodstream via the lungs, where they activate the vagus nerve—the longest nerve in the body and a superhighway between the brain and every major organ.
This nerve, which controls both the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous systems, tends to be out of kilter in in a variety of mental issues and generally on permanent high alert.
But new research has shown that many essential oils can calm and restore proper regulation of the vagus nerve, which in turn can switch off inflammation and overcome conditions like depression and anxiety.
Other evidence shows that good vagal “tone” can also heal conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and even Parkinson’s disease.
Essential oils have been prized for their healing properties for thousands of years (remember, the gifts given by the Three Wise Men included frankincense and myrrh, both valued as highly as gold). But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that aromatherapy gained status as a medical treatment, and until 1975 that the chemical components of plants were finally recognized.
At that time, scientists began to discover that the aromatic molecules from herbs, flowers and plants contained chemical components such as limonene, citronellol and linalool, which have powerful antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. These and other similar types of compounds can be found in essential oils such as lemon, bergamot and sweet orange.
More recently, a raft of evidence is emerging to show that inhaled essential oils from common herbs like rosemary and peppermint act on the brain to restore memories. And while they affect the same pathways as the most popular Alzheimer’s drugs, they appear to be more effective and long-lasting, without side effects.
The forthcoming holidays are traditionally a time of the greatest joy but also the greatest sadness. Some two-thirds of people who have a mental challenge find their struggles are worse during the holidays, and nearly 40 percent of people find their stress levels vastly increase at this time of year.
When making your holiday preparations, instead of simply lighting candles, consider turning on an aromatherapy diffuser with a few oils known to lift the spirits.
It may be the most effective way of all to spread the Christmas cheer.
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